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No. 78: The Second Isaiah and His Message

BIBLICAL Horizons, No. 78
October, 1995
Copyright 1995, Biblical Horizons

Higher critics have, for a long time, posited a Second Isaiah to account for the structural and tone differences in the book from chapter 40 on. Now, we do believe in a Second Isaiah, but believe that the form critics have generally suffered from a lack of imagination both in dealing with the capacities of Isaiah Number One and in discerning who in truth Number Two really was. Isaiah Number Two, and the Greater Isaiah, was most assuredly Jesus.

Jesus taught parabolically and in hidden, almost riddle form for most of His ministry. His disciples questioned Him as to why, and His response was (to interpret), "I teach this way because I am the second and greater Isaiah." When Isaiah was called and commissioned, God told him to preach to this end: the utter destruction of Israel. Isaiah was to preach

Until cities waste without inhabitant,

and houses without men,

and the land is utterly desolate (Is. 6:11),

which points forward beyond the time of Isaiah to the Diaspora into Babylonia. And, in a sense, Isaiah was called to be an ironist. His very preaching, which would render the people irreversibly guilty, would be unnoticed and unheard.

Go and say to this people:

Hear and hear, but do not understand;

see and see, but do not perceive (Is. 6:9).

Jesus too was an ironist, a preacher crying aloud, who, while speaking the language of the people, was utterly incomprehensible to the nation’s leadership. These people, too would go into captivity, and Israel would be destroyed for the second time, because of the Second Isaiah’s preaching.

Hence, Jesus was both the fulfillment of these prophesies in Isaiah (since He was the Holy Seed that was left in the stump in Is. 6:13), and the typological fulfillment of Isaiah himself.

The background to Isaiah 6:9-10, and of Jesus’ subsequent quotation of it in His own ministry, is enlightening. The first place we encounter language of this sort is in two of the Psalms: 115 and 135. (For some of what follows, I owe much to Owen Barfield in his book, Saving the Appearances.) The intention of these Psalms is to contrast the living Jehovah with the dead idols.

Why should the nations say,

"Where is their God?"

Our God is in the heavens;

He does whatever He pleases.

Their idols are silver and gold,

the work of men’s hands.

They have mouths, but do not speak;

eyes, but do not see.

They have ears, but do not hear;

noses, but do not smell.

They have hands, but do not feel;

feet, but do not walk;

and they do not make a sound in their


Those who make them are like them;

so are all who trust in them.

(Psalm 115:2-8)

The borrowing of language in Isaiah is very clear. He is accusing Israel of being no different from the nations. They are makers of idols. And beyond that, all of the consequent spiritual afflictions that plague the heathen are now the sicknesses of Israel. The Invisibility of the God of Abraham, which was such a stumbling block to the heathen, is now a scandal to Israel too. God’s invisibility has been transformed into unfindability and unknowableness. But this unknowableness does not have its roots in God Himself; it is a moral consequence of making and worshipping idols. If one worships a stone, one will become a stone. The consequence will be blindness in the face of the obvious, the hearing of cacophony instead of the word, paralysis on the highway of holiness, and a mouth that can only roar with folly. Israel has blinded and deafened herself with idols, and Isaiah’s preaching (which will render Israel inexcusable) will never be heard. Israel must go into captivity.

Now we know that a part of God’s purpose in sending Israel into captivity was precisely to cure them of their addiction to idols. And this He did. "And the idols shall utterly pass away." "Then you will defile your silver-covered graven images and your gold-plated molten images. You will scatter them as unclean things; you will say to them `Begone!’" (Is. 2:18, 30:22). After the captivity, Israel was never again troubled with this sin. This is what makes Jesus’ quotation of the passage so interesting. What would be the relevance?

In Matthew 12 and Luke 11, Jesus tells a parable of an unclean spirit that goes out of a man and, unable to find rest, returns to the swept and clean home with seven other spirits more evil than himself. The context of this is interesting. In Isaiah 35:5-6, Isaiah prophesies of the coming age as being exemplified by the following miracles: The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, and the dumb will sing. In other words, they will be miraculously healed of idols and the afflictions of idols. Of the major classes of miracles performed by Jesus, these exact miracles are amongst them. Immediately prior to Jesus’ telling the above mentioned parable, He healed a blind and dumb demoniac. This prompts the Pharisees to accuse Him of doing this by the power of Satan. Jesus gives a stinging rebuke to this, whereupon the Pharisees have the temerity to ask Him for a sign. This is astonishing. They have eyes but do not see. Then Jesus tells the parable. The meaning is this: Israel in captivity was cured of external idolatry, but, not then being filled with the Spirit of God, and not loving God, they have now become something seven times worse. The Scribes and the Pharisees now worship their own works and their own righteousness.

With the Scribes and the Pharisees and the Sadducees, we have the beginnings of modern man, the beginnings of the worship of self. If you worship yourself in any form, your disease is seven times worse than ancient idolatry, and the results are precisely the same. Self-worship will turn men into stones, render them blind, deaf, and dumb, and paralyze them on the highway of holiness. These men will, like the heathen, say "Where is your God?", and will declare Him dead or absent.

Now there is a last curious fact. The Book of Acts likewise ends with this same quotation from Isaiah (Acts 28:25-28). Paul applies it to the stubborn and unbelieving Jews, and now tells them he is going to go to those very heathen that Psalms 115 and 135 were written about in the first place, and they will listen. A full circle has been made. This is the third application of these original Psalms to Israel. It has passed through Isaiah, to Jesus, to Paul. In each instance, there are some who are saved and others who are further hardened. This is now a three-fold hardening that has come upon Israel, and God is done with Israel.

Where are we in this cycle? America is surely at least two-fold hardened, and perhaps we are moving toward the third. About this I do not know. But what is clear is that, more than ever, America is Self-Intoxicated, and it is harder than ever to get any hearing for the Gospel. Any man who attempts evangelism with an Arminian theology is bound to be deeply disillusioned in the contemporary world. For men to be saved it is increasingly clear that a purely supernatural miracle is required so that the blind can see, the deaf hear, and the dumb sing for joy. And, it is clear that we are in danger of losing our Gospel privileges. In many places in the third world, the Gospel is heard with great joy. Romans 11:7-8 is very liable to become our legacy: